What is the Metaverse?

The metaverse has begun to garner attention worldwide ever since Facebook’s announcement to rebrand itself as Meta Platforms, Inc. However, the concept of the Metaverse is not new, having been around for nearly three decades.

The term ‘metaverse’ can be traced back to the dystopian cyberpunk novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson in 1992. The metaverse presented in the book is depicted as a 3D virtual reality space with virtual avatars, digital social interactions and gaming among countless other things that are associated with today’s metaverse. The concept has also been explored to varying degrees in several other books, films and TV shows.

Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) also share many properties of the metaverse in Stephenson’s vision. In games such as Second Life (2003), users can build realistic avatars, interact with other players, create virtual items, trade goods and services and own virtual property. Second Life and other virtual worlds can be classified as protometaverses as they exist in isolation. Each world is categorized as a digital island where its inhabitants and virtual assets never leave, which is where it differs from the metaverse that Meta Platforms, Inc. Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg strives to create.

“The defining quality of the metaverse will be a feeling of presence — like you are right there with another person or in another place. Feeling truly present with another person is the ultimate dream of social technology. That is why we are focused on building this,” stated Zuckerberg in his Founder’s Letter following the rebranding announcement.

The metaverse that Zuckerberg seeks to create is an embodiment of the Internet in which users can experience physically. With that being said, the metaverse must possess properties that differentiate itself from isolated virtual reality experiences as such described by venture capitalist Matthew Ball in The Metaverse Primer: “The metaverse is a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.”

In short, the metaverse can be considered as a cyberspace where technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are combined to create a realistic virtual reality that merges aspects of the digital and physical worlds. It could also lead to a digital economy where users can create, buy, and sell goods across multiple platforms. Instead of creating virtual identities, avatars, and inventories that are bound to a single platform, the metaverse could enable users to construct a virtual persona that they can carry with them wherever they go.

Nonetheless, the metaverse remains largely a mystery as there is no metaverse as of current, and with the increased speed of the world’s technological advancements, the metaverse could emerge as something far greater than what we know of it today when it finally arrives in the future.